Women stand on the terrace of a brothel on G.B. Road | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Women on the terrace of a brothel on G.B. Road, a major red-light area in Delhi (representational image) | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday directed all states and union territories to provide dry rations, without insisting on seeing identity proof, to all sex workers identified by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and district authorities.

A bench led by Justice L.N. Rao ordered states to file an affidavit before it within four weeks, stipulating the implementation of the court order along with the number of sex workers that will benefit from it.

The direction was passed while the court was hearing a plea highlighting the distress faced by sex workers on account of the ongoing pandemic. This PIL was filed by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), the country’s oldest sex workers’ collective.

The court has also asked the Centre to inform, within the same time period of four weeks, whether it can extend financial assistance given to transgenders during the Covid-19 pandemic to sex workers also.

Last week, the bench had given the Centre a week’s time to respond on the issue of providing free rations and financial aid to sex workers.

“The learned Additional Solicitor General and the learned counsel appearing for the State Governments are directed to get instructions regarding the modalities for distribution of monthly dry rations and cash transfer to the sex workers without insisting on proof of identity,” the bench had ordered while hearing the application, drawing the court’s attention to the issue.

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‘Sex workers have a right to live with dignity’

The bench noted Tuesday that the apex court had in 2011 passed a slew of directions in the case of Budhadev Karmaskar, observing that sex workers have a right to live with dignity as they are human beings. It had then constituted a committee to look into the conditions of sex workers in the country.

According to NACO, which comes under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there are more than 8.68 lakh female sex workers in the country, and 62 per cent of the 62,137 transgender persons in 17 states are engaged in sex work, the court was told.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for the petitioner, said there existed a huge gap in identification of sex workers. Taking note of this, the court expressed concern over many sex workers not being in possession of identity proof. It then went on to issue the direction to enable the sex workers survive in light of the ongoing pandemic.

Also read: Covid divides Delhi’s sex workers — for some nothing’s off limits, others turn down offers

Left out of Covid response because of stigma: Petition

The DMSC’s application says a large number of sex workers have been excluded from aid measures due to lack of, or deficiencies in, documents such as Aadhaar and ration cards.

This exclusion continues despite top court orders to states and the Centre to ensure sex workers have access to ration cards, voter ID cards and bank accounts. These directions were based on the recommendations of a court-appointed panel set up in 2011 to ensure rehabilitation and empowerment of sex workers.

The petitioner claimed sex workers have been left out of the Covid-19 response because of social stigma and marginalisation, and are in urgent need of support.

It urged the bench to provide sex workers with relief, as long as the pandemic continues, in terms of monthly dry rations, cash transfers to the tune of Rs 5,000 per month and additional cash transfers of Rs 2,500 for those with schoolgoing children.

Also read: 99% of sex workers in Pune’s major red-light area want alternative livelihood, study finds


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  1. Praiseworthy. This is the honourable Supreme Court we have grown up admiring, which sometimes steps outside the strict straitjacket of the law, giving meaning to the right to life and liberty in a poor country. Not one which asks, a little helplessly, How long can you keep her imprisoned ..?

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